Peshmerga Fighter Claims Turkish Airstrikes Killed His Family as He Fought ISIS

Umit Bektas/Reuters
Umit Bektas/Reuters

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter named Mamend Rasul claims that, while he was off fighting against ISIS, serving as a company commander, a force supported by the Western powers and heavily relied upon to keep the rapacious terror state in check, Turkish F-16s bombed the Iraqi village of Zergaly where his family lived, killing his 63-year-old sister, 61-year-old brother, and a cousin.

The Kurds have been fighting hard on the front lines against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Turkey, a NATO member and major U.S. ally, has been conducting airstrikes against the Kurds–specifically a group called the PKK, which the United States has identified as a terrorist organization. It has been feared that Turkey’s campaign against the PKK would alienate and demoralize other Kurdish groups.

“The same day this happened I was doing my duty serving at the front near Kirkuk against Isil,” said Rasul as he toured the wreckage of his family’s homes, as reported by the UK Telegraph.

“We did nothing to Turkey–it can’t be right that at the same time they came to do airstrikes. I was thinking that I was the one who was in danger in the front line, while my family here was safe.”

It appears the Turks were trying to hit PKK positions in the area when their bombs hit Zergaly, killing at least eight people, including Rasul’s relatives.

The Telegraph notes that while the PKK is distinct from vital Kurdish allies against ISIS, such as the Peshmerga and YPG militia, there is a good deal of overlap, making Turkey’s continuing campaign against the PKK–which has indisputably carried out terrorist attacks in Turkey–a source of growing tension across the Kurdish world. One fighter in Zergaly put it bluntly: “When we fight in Turkey, we are PKK, when we fight in Syria, we are YPG.”

The report also mentions that while the PKK has been carrying out terror attacks in Turkey, they have also been very effective at fighting ISIS, playing a role in the successful defense of the crucial border city of Kobane. They are much less welcome in Iraq, however, where the Peshmerga are the main Kurdish force. This has won them a measure of respect from Kurds all across the borders of the Islamic State, which, in turn, generates anger when news of Turkish airstrikes is heard.

The Kurds are well aware of Turkey’s fears about a cross-border Greater Kurdistan consuming territory in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Judging by the Telegraph article, the Kurds have grown increasingly sour about Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an avowed Islamist whom Kurds suspect has been underestimating, indulging, or even collaborating with the Islamic State. They also blame Erdogan for stirring the pot in Syria, exacerbating the ugly civil war that gave birth to ISIS.

There are some conspiracy theories about Erdogan floating around, too, including one that posits that he has been goading the PKK into launching terrorist attacks because he wants to discredit the mainstream pro-Kurdish political party that did so well in the last round of elections, the HDP. Some think Erdogan relishes a terrorist threat to distract from his political problems, and give him an excuse to crack down on dissidents.

Others go so far as claiming that Erdogan is using ISIS as a proxy army in a bid for Sunni Muslim supremacy over the Middle East, and might even be angling for a spot as “caliph” of the Islamic State, which would presumably grow to absorb much of Turkey. On Monday, the leader of the PKK, Cemil Bayik, accused Erdogan of attacking the PKK to protect ISIS.